Around the Nation
1:37 am
Sun September 4, 2011

Tropical Storm Lee Reaches Louisiana Coast

The center of Tropical Storm Lee lurched across Louisiana's Gulf Coast early Sunday, dumping torrential rains that threatened flooding in low-lying communities in a foreshadowing of what cities further inland could face in coming days.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Lee had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It says Lee is crawling to the north at 2 mph. Forecasters say a slow northeastward motion is expected as it treks across southern Louisiana.

Lee is forecast to dump 10 to 15 inches of rain in many areas in the coming days, and up to 20 inches in scattered spots.

With the upcoming Labor Day holiday, the storm forced a lot of people to change weekend plans.

Tiger Hammond, president of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, says the group's annual Labor Day picnic was canceled.

"We'd either have to be out there in hip boots or shrimp boots because that's the only you'd have gotten to our picnic grounds this year," he said. "Because you can have 2 to 3 inches of rain and they have street flooding over in the City Park area."

Hammond says the picnic has been rescheduled for Oct. 15.

The sluggish storm stalled just offshore for several hours Saturday before meandering to the north and west in the evening.

No injuries were reported, but there were scattered instances of water entering low-lying homes and businesses in Louisiana. Thousands were without power.

Coffers were suffering at many coastal businesses that depend on a strong end-of-summer weekend. Alabama beaches that would normally be packed were largely empty, and rough seas closed the Port of Mobile. Mississippi's coastal casinos, however, were open and reporting brisk business.

In New Orleans, sporadic downpours caused some street flooding in low-lying areas early Saturday, but pumps were sucking up the water and sending it into Lake Pontchartrain. Lee's surge so far had not penetrated levees along the coast, National Weather Service forecaster Robert Ricks said.

"A all of us who have been through this know, it's not how much we get, but how much we get in a short period of time," New Orleans Mitch Landrieu said.

The storm was denting offshore energy production. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said 237 oil and gas production platforms and 23 drilling rigs have been evacuated by Lee. The agency estimates that about 60 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf and almost 55 percent of the natural gas production has been shut in. It's unlikely the decreased oil production in the Gulf will have much effect on gas prices at the pump.

In Alabama, rough seas forced the closure of the Port of Mobile. Pockets of heavy rain pounded the beaches Saturday, and strong winds whipped up the surf and bowed palm trees. But just a couple miles inland, wind and rain dropped significantly.

In the open Atlantic, Katia has regained hurricane status again, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Katia has cycled on and off between tropical storm and hurricane status while moving across the open Atlantic, hurricane specialist Robbie Berg told The Associated Press by telephone. He says the storm strengthened recently and now has maximum sustained winds of about 75 mph, the lowest-level Category 1 storm.

At 5 a.m. EDT, Katia's center was about 370 miles northeast of the Northern Leeward Islands and it was moving 12 mph toward the northwest.

Berg said Katia poses no threat to land over the next 48 hours, but he urged those on the East Coast and in Bermuda, a British territory in the mid-Atlantic, to remain watchful but not be alarmed.

NPR's Jeff Brady contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press

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